Delegation for 12.14.21: Grapefruit — Cuba — Medal of Honor — blood tests — ports & planes

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
The Southern border brings sour fruit.

Juiced

The patrolling of the Southern border has generated plenty of friction between congressional Republicans and Democratic President Joe Biden. But now, members of both parties say there’s another kind of trouble flowing into the fruit juice market from Mexico.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott last week rallied voices from Florida and Texas to fight for U.S. grapefruit growers. The Florida senators, both Republicans, led a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture signed by a bipartisan collection of House members from both states. It questions the recent suspension of juice content standards for grapefruits imported from Mexico.

“The core mission of USDA is to promote and support American agricultural producers, not to disadvantage them by creating unfair advantages for foreign growers,” reads the letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “As such, we urge you to immediately reinstate juice content standards for imported grapefruits.”

According to trade publication The Packer, the suspension, announced in November without explanation, shocked citrus growers. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat, has also sent a letter to Vilsack questioning the move. “This deeply troubling action is creating further unfair advantages for Mexico and for others over our domestic industry,” she wrote.

A Texas A&M University study found more than 85% of grapefruit juice crossing the border in September and October would have failed quality inspections if they were enforced. This creates an unfair difference in standards in the marketplace and could lead to more soured liquid pouring into U.S. cups.

“This suspension allows low-quality grapefruit products to flood our market and forces our growers to compete against low-cost, subsidized imports,” the letter reads. “This regulatory patch is discriminatory in nature, as substandard grapefruit products can now be imported; meanwhile, American-grown grapefruits must still meet juice content standards. Additionally, as these imported grapefruits are of poor quality due to their low juice content, American consumers may become averse to purchasing grapefruits, as the substandard imported products could adversely impact the entire market due to unmet consumer expectations.”

A total of 20 House members co-signed the letter, including 15 from Florida. That includes Republicans Kat Cammack, John Rutherford, Mike Waltz, Bill Posey, Daniel Webster, Gus Bilirakis, Scott Franklin, Greg Steube, Brian Mast, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar and Democrats Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto.

Ignoring Cuba?

The continued jailing of dissidents in Cuba demands U.S. action, according to Scott.

In a harsh statement, the Naples Republican decried actions by Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who he has frequently criticized as a puppet of former Cuban President Raul Castro.

Most recently, Cuba detained José Daniel Ferrer Cantillo, the son of Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba) leader José Daniel Ferrer García, for demonstrating on International Human Rights Day.

“In an act clearly rooted in its paralyzing fear of the powerful movement for freedom and democracy growing across the island, the illegitimate communist Cuban regime deployed its thugs to kidnap Daniel Ferrer and other freedom activists demanding the release of his father, José Daniel Ferrer, as well as the rest of the political prisoners held by the regime,” Scott said.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, UnPaCu, in a photo while he was still in house arrest Image via Ferrer family.

“Every day, we the see new and terrible crimes against humanity and atrocities committed by the Castro and Diaz-Canel regime, and yet President Biden stays silent.”

He urged Biden to speak out with greater regularity, more like members of the Florida delegation.

“How much more will it take for this administration and the international community to react? President Biden should be leading the free nations of the world in the fight to defend and protect human rights, freedom and democracy, but instead, he’s shamefully hiding,” Scott said.

“Appeasement has never worked, and it’s not working now. Joe Biden needs to show up to let the world see America’s dedication to freedom. He needs to demand the release and humanitarian medical attention for all held by the illegitimate communist regime. It’s time for action. The people of Cuba can’t afford to keep waiting.”

Preclearance

Gainesville Republican Cammack filed legislation last week to make it easier for one group of foreign visitors to enter the United States. She filed the Taiwan Preclearance Act with Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson.

The legislation, intended to acknowledge the geopolitical importance of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, would direct Customs and Border Patrol to prepare a report on establishing a clearance facility at the Taipei Taoyuan International Airport to ease travel between Taiwan and America.

Kat Cammack seeks to make it easier for Taiwanese citizens to visit the U.S. Image via Facebook.

“I am excited to introduce this important measure in the House to ensure the United States’ support of an airport preclearance facility at the Taipei International Airport in Taiwan,” Cammack said. “Taiwan is one of our most important allies and an essential economic partner with shared values and security priorities. This new facility will ensure easier, safer travel — something that is long overdue. I’m grateful to Rep. Johnson for her partnership in this effort.”

Dozens of flights originate in the Taiwanese airport that land in the U.S., but many connect through other locations in Asia. A preclearance facility would avoid customs stops in other nations and make smoother travel to the U.S.

“At a time when the United States and Taiwan are more connected than ever before, it is critical that we signal Taiwan’s importance as a geostrategic security partner,” Johnson said.

Ukraine lane

As tensions increase at the Russia-Ukrainian border, St. Augustine Republican Waltz traveled with a bipartisan congressional delegation to the Ukraine border and came back advocating for the U.S. to defend the nation vigorously.

“Ukraine needs our help NOW to defend itself against a Russian invasion,” he tweeted, along with photos from the trip. “The Biden Administration can no longer withhold lethal aid to the Ukrainian military with the hope of ‘not provoking’ [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. “Serious sanctions and lethal aid should be put in place now to raise costs to deter this invasion, rather than threatening consequences AFTER an invasion.

“We made the people of Ukraine a promise in 1994 to provide defensive assurances in exchange for giving up their nuclear arsenal. Our credibility is on the line.”

Preserving Ukrainian sovereignty has more significant ramifications in the wake of the Taliban taking over in Afghanistan as a U.S.-backed democratic government.

“We cannot afford to lose a second democratic partner in a year. Just as Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement allowed Czechoslovakia, then Poland, then France to fall to Nazi Germany — leading to global conflict. Biden risks taking the world down the same slippery slope.”

That’s notably a different take than some of Waltz’s GOP colleagues within the delegation. Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz has dismissed any public fretting about the dispute between Russia and its geographic neighbors.

“I care more about the U.S.-Mexico border than the Russia-Ukraine border,” Gaetz tweeted last week.

Medal of Honor

Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe of Oveido — who rescued seven of his fellow soldiers from a burning, bombed vehicle and then died of his injuries in 2005 — will receive the Medal of Honor.

Biden announced he would award the medal posthumously to Cashe “for his acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, while serving as a Platoon Sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3d Brigade, 3d Infantry Division in Salah Ad Din Province, Iraq on 17 October 2005, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Murphy and Waltz, who’ve been lobbying together across the aisle for the medal for years and got a law changed so Cashe would be eligible, hailed the news.

Alwyn Cashe gets his long-awaited honors. Image via U.S. Army.

“I am overjoyed that Alwyn Cashe is being awarded the Medal of Honor,” Murphy, whose district includes Oviedo and Sanford, said in a news release. “I wish this amazing man were alive to receive it himself. I am so happy for his family and fellow soldiers who fought for years to ensure that Alwyn received the recognition he earned. This nation is beyond grateful for his service and ultimate sacrifice.”

“America can never fully repay the ultimate debt paid by our heroes like Alwyn Cashe — the best we can do is bestow the nation’s highest honor. This is a monumental accomplishment for the entire Cashe family, who has waited 16 years for this moment,” said Waltz, an Army combat veteran himself. “Alwyn, without a doubt, is worthy of the Medal of Honor — and I’m so proud to see him recognized appropriately for his heroism and acts of valor.”

Airport bonanza

Central Florida Democrats Murphy, Soto and Val Demings announced Orlando International Airport was in line to receive $233 million from the new $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

The bill allots $47 million per year for five years in airport improvement projects, on top of AIP funding already available through the U.S. Department of Transportation. Much of the money will be used to expand the airport’s south terminal under construction.

The allotment is the most for any airport in Florida, the trio of lawmakers said in a release.

Orlando International gets a big infrastructure boost.

Demings said the money comes after a “long, tough political fight.”

“I’m excited for all of the new business that this bipartisan win will generate for Central Florida and will continue working to ensure that Florida has everything we need to compete and win on the world stage,” she said. “We look forward to additional funding throughout our community in the coming years through this bipartisan act.”

“This federal funding will help to make air travel more accessible to our fast-growing population while boosting our local tourism industry,” Soto said. “As we welcome tourism back to Central Florida, we are making critical investments in airport safety, accessibility, and efficiency.”

Said Murphy: “I fought hard to get the bipartisan infrastructure bill across the finish line, and I’m proud that airports across the state, including Orlando International Airport, are now getting the investments they need to renovate, expand, and keep up with our growing region.”

Sepsis standards

It’s time for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to move on research released earlier this year on sepsis testing, according to Palm Harbor Republican Bilirakis. The Palm Harbor Republican led a letter with California Democrat Mike Levin to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure pressing for higher standards on testing blood cultures.

“By embracing an innovative approach to blood culture processing, CMS can advance the accuracy of the diagnosis of bloodstream infections, including sepsis, to improve patient outcomes and avoid costly complications from misdiagnosis,” said Bilirakis. “This common-sense step is a win-win for patients and the health care system as a whole, which is why my bipartisan colleagues and I are enthusiastically encouraging CMS to take this important step.”

CMS research published in February shows U.S. hospitals saw a 40% increase over the past seven years of Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized with sepsis. Besides the human costs, it also means a $41.5-billion hit to the Medicare program.

Gus Bilirakis urges Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to set higher standards on testing blood cultures. Image via YouTube.

“Complicating our fight against sepsis is the stark reality that more than 20 million Americans present with symptoms of sepsis in acute care hospitals annually,” the letter reads. “Appropriately, these patients are treated under a “sepsis protocol,” where blood culture tests are urgently drawn and used as the gold standard to diagnose bloodstream infections. The challenge, however, is that an average of 40% of the positive blood culture test results for sepsis are wrong (i.e., false positives) due to blood sample contamination.”

The solution must be updating testing technology and cutting the allowable standard for false positives to less than 1%.

Magnolia Medical Technologies, the maker of the Steripath testing platform, praised the congressional letter. “We applaud the efforts of Representatives Levin, Bilirakis, and the rest of their colleagues from Congress who joined them in sending this important bipartisan letter,” said Greg Bullington, CEO and co-founder of Magnolia Medical Technologies. “Magnolia is committed to diagnostic accuracy and the prevention of patient harm. We have worked tirelessly to create an extensive scientific and clinical evidence base proving that we can significantly improve the accuracy of sepsis testing. We look forward to CMS making this proposed national quality measure a reality.”

Health care champion

Bilirakis was among three Congress members — along with Democrats from Nevada and Wisconsin — honored as a legislative champion for “visionary expanding access to high-quality health coverage and care.”

The Alliance of Community Health Plans announced its three annual champions Monday: Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Democratic Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin.

Gus Bilirakis gets recognition as a health care champion. Image via Facebook.

The alliance chose Bilirakis for his work to advance policies that help ensure America’s seniors can safely access critical health care services. The coalition noted that, as a co-sponsor of the bipartisan Ensuring Parity in Medicare Advantage and PACE for Audio-Only Telehealth Act, Bilirakis seeks to increase rural and underserved seniors’ access to telehealth services.

“We applaud these legislators for championing bipartisan reforms that prioritize higher quality coverage and care at a better price,” ACHP President Ceci Connolly said in a news release. “Each recipient has led the charge to improve value, equity and accessibility in our health system, and we are grateful for their commitment to improving the lives of the communities they serve.

Purple hearts

Two years after a missile attack on an air base in Iraq, dozens of U.S. service members who survived the attack will receive Purple Hearts and the assistance that comes with it. St. Petersburg Charlie Crist has pushed the Defense Department for years, including sending a letter to then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper that noted the high number of traumatic brain injuries after the attack and the low level of recognition.

“While these wounds may be unseen, too often they have serious health repercussions,” Crist wrote then.

He heralded the decision to award 39 more service members with Purple Hearts. That brings the total number of survivors of the Al Asad Air Base attack to receive the military honor to 62.

Survivors of the Al Asad Air Base missile attack have earned military honors. Image via U.S. Air Force.

“Servicemembers at Al Asad Air Base endured life-altering injuries in service to our country,” Crist said. “Providing a Purple Heart to these brave men and women is the least we can do for their sacrifice. I am thankful that our nation will recognize their sacrifice in the line of duty.”

His office noted that some who survived the strike two years ago still did not live to see the medal issues. Sgt. Jason Quitugua, for example, died from suicide last month.

Port promise

The co-chair of Florida’s congressional delegation says there’s an answer to America’s supply chain crisis. Ship more goods to Florida ports.

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan led a letter to Biden advocating increased use of Florida’s maritime facilities.

“As the holidays approach, American businesses and families are feeling the effects firsthand of the continued supply chain bottlenecks,” said Buchanan. “Given Florida’s unique geographic location, our 15 deep water seaports can handle increased freight traffic and meet holiday demands for consumers around the country, and they are ready to get to work.”

Vern Buchanan wants Joe Biden to increase the use of Florida ports to help alleviate the supply chain problems.

The bipartisan letter bears the signature of 17 other members of Congress representing Florida. Democrats Murphy and Crist join with all Florida’s Republicans.

The letter uses the language of cooperation but urges the administration to act and utilize Florida infrastructure fully.

“In successfully moving over 100 million tons of cargo and millions of cruise passengers annually, Florida’s seaports currently support a vast array of global commercial industries,” the letter states. “Working together with the federal government, Florida’s seaports can save consumers money, support American jobs, grow our economy and offer near-term relief for our nation’s current supply chain bottleneck affecting many aspects of our daily lives.”

Water redirection

Stuart Republican Brian Mast filed legislation to allow water projects to dip into a pot of money customarily used for buying land. The Land and Water Conservation Fund Amendment Act would change the regulations on spending the namesake fund. Federal law today sets that funding aside only for land conservation projects and recreational lands, but there are no eligibility provisions that would let Florida use the funds for several efforts with similar missions.

“In Florida, water quality and recreation go hand in hand,” Mast said. “Toxic algae often keeps people from enjoying our waters and beaches, so expanding eligibility to water quality projects is completely in line with the LWCF’s mission. Florida taxpayers contribute to this fund; we should be able to use it to address the most pressing issues in our communities.”

Brian Mast urges Florida to take a dip in the money pool. Image via AP.

He pointed to several projects within Florida’s 18th Congressional District that could benefit from the funding, including rehabilitation of the Sewall’s Point stormwater system, septic-to-sewer conversions in Martin County, discharge structures to regulate flow to the E-8 canal in St. Lucie County and the Howard Creek stormwater treatment area.

Rubio filed a companion bill in the Senate.

“Protecting and restoring Florida’s water quality is critically important for our state,” Rubio said. “This bill would make meaningful reforms to allow existing LWCF funds to be used for ecosystem restoration and water quality projects in Florida. This important change will give our state additional resources to improve our state’s ecosystems, reduce nutrient loads in our waterways, and reduce the risk of harmful algal blooms.”

Fintech sharks?

Naples Republican Byron Donalds introduced new legislation to expand criteria for a Small Business Administration loan program. He and Colorado Democrat Jason Crow filed the Expanding Access to Affordable Credit for Small Businesses Act, which would allow fintech companies, those integrating technology into financial services, the opportunity to provide loans to small businesses.

Byron Donalds is looking to loosen credit for small businesses. Image via Facebook.

“Fintech lending is the future of small business lending, and this legislation modernizes how small businesses access capital,” said Donalds, a longtime financial services industry professional. “Empowering and equipping the fintech sector of the economy to offer private loans creates more opportunities for American small enterprises to achieve prosperity. This is common-sense, bipartisan legislation that deploys a willing and ready private sector to meet the needs of our nation’s small businesses in a sustainable way and creates a pathway for entrepreneurs to pursue their American dream.”

The first-term Congressman also noted this bill marks the fourth bipartisan bill he has filed since being sworn in January.

Irma money

It’s been years since Hurricane Irma hit Florida, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to catch up with the damage. Last week, West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel announced nearly $1.4 million will go to Delray Beach to reimburse costs related to emergency pumping, sandbagging, and power generation connected to the 2017 storm.

“Four years ago, Hurricane Irma brought floodwaters, strong winds, and deadly destruction to our state, and cities like Delray Beach spent millions of dollars to keep their communities safe and recover from the storm,” Frankel said.

“Thankfully, Congress has been able to provide billions in relief to areas like ours, and this new round of funding will help Delray Beach continue to heal and prepare for future hurricane seasons.”

This money specifically covered many of the preventive measures taken by the city before the storm struck.

No FARC

Miami Republican Salazar has harshly criticized a Biden administration decision to drop Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) off its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Now, she has filed legislation to introduce sanctions against the Colombian organization.

The No Foreign Adversaries Residing in our Communities (No FARC) Act would deny visas to current and former members of FARC.

No FARC for Maria Salazar.

“As the Congresswoman from Florida’s 27th District, I represent a large Colombian-American community. Many of them saw their loved ones murdered and were forced to flee during FARC’s reign of terror,” Salazar said.

“This Administration’s decision to delist FARC is a slap in the face to the Colombian people. FARC is a Marxist, anti-democratic, violent terrorist group whose bloody campaign against the government resulted in over 220,000 deaths. Since 2019 alone, FARC has committed over 300 terrorist attacks in Colombia. We cannot reward these atrocities by allowing terrorists to vacation in our communities. If the Biden administration will not hold them accountable, then Congress must act.”

The administration said delisting came in response to peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC, but that hasn’t calmed skepticism in the state’s about giving the violent organization any quarter.

She introduced the bill with Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw, a veteran who previously lived in Colombia. “For more than 55 years FARC has engaged in terror against the Colombian people and while the agreement between the government of Colombia and FARC is a welcome milestone,” Crenshaw said, “I still have major concerns about the threat posed by FARC and strongly disagree with the Biden Administration’s decision to remove FARC from the list of foreign terror organizations as remnants of the organization continue to wage war against the Colombian people.”

On this day

Dec. 14, 1979 — “Seminole bingo hall sparks Indian gambling boom” via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Seminole Tribe established the first Indian-operated high-stakes gambling operation in the United States, spawning the vast array of Indian casinos that would sprout around the country, from drab slots barns to glittering gambling palaces. When the Tribe announced plans to open a bingo hall with pots of up to $2,000, well beyond the state’s legal limit, then-Broward County Sheriff Bob Butterworth threatened to arrest the operators and shut down the hall. The Tribe fought back and won an injunction from a federal judge that allowed the hall to open.

Dec. 14, 2008 — “Iraqi journalist throws his shoes at George W. Bush” via The Washington Post — Visiting the country for one last time before he left office, President Bush joined Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a news conference in Baghdad, where he proceeded to argue that the prolonged conflict had been necessary for “world peace.” Muntadhar al-Zaidi, then a 28-year-old journalist working for the Egypt-based television station Al-Baghdadia, stood up. “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” he shouted in Arabic as he hurled a shoe at Bush. The President ducked, and Zaidi let his other shoe fly.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Scott Powers.

Staff Reports



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